Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 7, No. 4, 2008
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Robert J. Lewis
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Tariq Ali
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Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

response to John Gordon's


from: Owen Paepke:

Dear Sir:
John Gordon's excellent essay ("Saving the Visual Arts") reminded me of a 1969(!) essay by Gunther Stent, "The End of the Arts and Sciences." His subject was "the historical trend for progressive relaxation of stylistic canon."

As artistic evolution unfolds, the artist is being freed more and more from strict canons governing the method of working his medium of creative expression. The end result of this evolution has been that . . . the artist's liberation has been almost total [which] now creates very great difficulties for the appreciation of his work.

With respect to the visual arts, Stent argued that a painter no longer "fashion[s] his works as new, meaningful statements about the world. He merely adds to the experiential repertoire of his audience, which is to make of these works what it will."

Gordon urges a "strict adherence to visual truth." The modernist and postmodernist departure from that canon, indeed, the denial that any such truth exists, appears to be an important example of Stent's more general case. If Stent was right, however, Gordon's hopes are bound to be dashed. Stent argued that relaxation of stylistic canons was an inevitable, one-way trip, driven by the very forces of creativity. In music, for example, Bach composed a body of perfect fugues (let's assume). Any fugue that Mozart might compose would therefore have seemed either inferior or derivative. Bach had exhausted the canon, at least from the perspective of other composers of genius. To do something important and worthy of his talents, Mozart had to ignore or at least relax the canon. And so on, generation after generation, until we arrive at John Cage.

All of which leaves many lovers of art going to museums and symphony halls to see or listen to 18th and 19th century works that they can at least understand and appreciate.


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